On this date in 2007 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez along with minor leaguer Brett Lillibridge, to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for first baseman Adam LaRoche and minor leaguer Jamie Romak. Gonzalez had pitched out of the Pirates bullpen for four seasons and in 2006 he took over the closer role where he saved 24 games with a 2.17 ERA in 54 innings. During the 2004 season the lefty had a 1.25 ERA in 47 games. Lillibridge was a 4th round draft pick of the Pirates in 2005 who split the 2006 season between low-A and high-A, hitting a combined .305 with 87 walks and 53 stolen bases. LaRoche was 27 at the time of the trade and he had just come off a season in which he hit .285 with 32 homers and 90 RBIs, his third season in the majors. Romak was 21 years old with four minor league seasons already. He hit .247 with 16 homers in 2006 in low-A ball.
For the Braves, Gonzalez pitched only 18 games before he was diagnosed with a muscle tear that required Tommy John surgery. He didn’t return until June 18, 2008 and had a 4.28 ERA with 14 saves in 33.2 innings. He pitched well in 2009 before leaving via free agency. Lillibridge was rushed to the majors in 2008, hitting .200 in 29 games. In that offseason he was traded to the White Sox in a six player deal for Javier Vazquez. In 2011 he hit .258 with 13 homers in 97 games for the White Sox. Romak played three seasons in the Pirates system, topping out at AA before he was released. He signed with the Royals and has spent the last two seasons at AA for them. LaRoche played with the Pirates until the 2009 trading deadline. He hit .272 with 88 RBIs in 2007 then followed it up with a .270, 25 homer, 85 RBI season. In 2009 he was hitting .247 with 12 homers through 87 games when the Pirates traded him to the Red Sox for minor leaguers Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland. He has played with four teams since leaving the Pirates.
Born on this date in 1973 was third baseman Chris Stynes who played for the 2004 Pirates. He had played nine seasons in the majors with five different teams when he signed with the Pirates on January 4, 2004 as a free agent. In 2003 with the Colorado Rockies he set career highs in games with 138, doubles with 31 and RBIs with 73 but hit just .255 and had a huge home/road split, hitting .291 with 10 homers at Coors Field and .218 with one homer on the road. For the Pirates he hit .216 with one homer and 16 RBIs in 74 games before he was released on August 4,2004. In 71 games at third base that season he made just one error. He signed with the Orioles for the 2005 season but his year ended in spring training when he broke his leg with a foul ball. He was a career .275 hitter in 828 major league games
Also born on this date, in 1963, was Scott Little who was an outfielder for the 1989 Pirates. Scott was a 7th round draft pick of the 1984 Mets who came to the Pirates along with Al Pedrique in exchange for Bill Almon on May 29,1987. He had started that 1987 season in AA for the Mets but was sent to high-A prior to the trade and stayed there with the Pirates. In 1988 he played at AA and hit .290 with 52 RBIs and 27 steals in 118 games. He also played four games at AAA that year. Back in AAA in 1989, he was called up in late July and made his major league debut on July 27th as a pinch hitter. A week later he got his second at-bat also in a pinch-hit role and then on August 6th he came into the game in the 14th inning, going into RF during a double switch. In the 17th inning Scott picked up his first major league hit, a line drive single to LF on the first pitch. Four pitches later on a fly ball to right field by Junior Ortiz, Little was doubled off first base for an inning ending double play. He was back in the minors right after that and played with the Pirates in AAA through the 1991 season, never making the majors again. That August 6th game against the Cubs was won by the Pirates 5-4 on an 18th inning walk-off homer by Jeff King. Little has managed 12 seasons in the minors since retiring as a player, six of them in the Pirates system.
Finally, born on this date in 1872 was shortstop Ed Spurney who played for the 1891 Pirates. His birth date is sometimes listed as January 9th, depending on which source you use. Regardless of his actual birth date, there is very little know about him because he played just one year of pro ball and wasn’t much of a hitter in the minors. He was just 19 when he got his chance in the majors on June 26, 1891. He was a native of Cleveland, Ohio and that is where he joined the Pirates as they played the Cleveland Spiders. Just three days later his major league career was over with a .286 average and two walks. He played three games at shortstop and made one error. He also played briefly with two minor league teams that season.
The story of his major league career started the day before his debut, when the Pirates didn’t like the play of shortstop Tun Berger. Manager Ned Hanlon pulled him mid-game and went to shortstop himself. They next day they tried out Spurney, who was probably the best local kid they could find. It was actually a common practice back in the day when teams were on the road and had an injury, or a problem with a player. Back then they always had small rosters and carried a minimal amount of players with them on the road to save on travel costs, leaving bench players and reserve pitchers at home. Spurney fits the mold of one of these players, very short career in minors and majors, younger player and making his debut near his hometown, or in Spurney’s case, in his actual hometown. At the time, the Pirates also brought in two other shortstops, though neither of them got into a game. After Spurney’s trial, the Pirates went with Jocko Fields at shortstop until they acquired Frank Shugart, who finished out the year at shortstop.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.